In a move that will no doubt please many consumers, on February 15, 2012, the Federal Communications Commission approved a new set of rules aimed to substantially curb the practice of telemarketers to engage in "robocalling", or the placing of automatic, pre-recorded calls. The key development in the FCC’s 48 page Report and Order is that now, prior to initiating a "robo call", a telemarketer must obtain the consumer’s express written consent.  This new requirement of express written consent supplants the previous robocalling regime, where merely having an "existing business relationship" with a consumer was sufficient to create an exemption from the ban against robocalling; that exemption has now been eliminated under the rules. 

In addition to the new requirement of express written consent, robocallers must also offer the consumer an "opt-out" mechanism to provide them with the ability to end the call speedily, as well as a way for the consumer to have their telephone number automatically added to the telemarketer’s "do not call" list.

The new rules don’t entirely eliminate robocalling absent express written consent, however; there are still some permissible exemptions. For instance, non-profit organizations, schools, political groups and other groups initiating "informational calls" (such as notification of an emergency) can still initiate robocalls to a consumer’s landline (but can no longer robocall a cellular phone).

The new rules (which have been enacted pursuant to the FCC’s rulemaking authority under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act) don’t take effect immediately. There are two phases: First, within 90 days from the date the new rules are published in the Federal Register, telemarketers are required to implement the above-mentioned "opt-out" mechanism. Then, one year from the publication date, robocalls must obtain express written consent, and can no longer rely on the "existing business relationship" exception.